JACKSON-“What is native grass?”
That was the question that remained largely unanswered during the four hour long Jackson Planning Board hearing Monday night of a controversial application by Six Flags to install a 69 acre solar farm on property adjacent to Great Adventure.
Despite the aggressive campaign being waged against the project online and in the media, few Jackson residents attended the meeting in dissent among an audience of approximately 80, made up mostly of out-of-town environmentalists, professionals and lawyers.
In the past, highly sensitive and controversial township meetings were relocated to the nearby auditorium at Jackson Memorial High School. Plenty of open seats were to be found at Monday’s hearing.
Several residents carried signs which read, “Say No to Six Flags Solar Plan”, an effort by a group calling themselves “Jackson Citizens”.
While a flyer being handed out by the group warned that the solar farm will cause septic failures, pool collapses, catastrophic electrical fires and lower property values, testimony dragged on for hours as environmental experts argued over the definition of “native grass”, never coming to a general consensus despite the wealth of experience and knowledge at the table.
Michele Donato, legal counsel for the environmental coalition opposing the solar farm continued her television lawyer theatrics throughout the hearing, at one point prompting planning board attorney Gregory McGuckin to issue a warning for her outburst.
During the marathon debate over grass seed, Donato lashed out at the planning board when the board asked one of her environmental experts to provide seeding suggestions.
“You know what my suggestion is, the parking lot,” she chirped, after her attempt to shield her expert witness from from cross-examination by the board failed.
McGuckin reminded Donato that discussion was to remain on the existing application as it appears and that it was beyond the board’s authority to discuss an application that doesn’t exist.
With no application before the board for a parking lot based solar farm, the board has a legal obligation to discuss matters before them and not entertain theoretical notions and wishful fantasies. In the end, if a parking lot based solar farm were to be discussed by the board, Six Flags Great Adventure would have to file an application for such a project.
“You know better than that,” Mcguckin said to Donato.
Planning Board Chairman Robert Hudak snapped at Donato’s blatant disregard for the board’s authority and asked Donato to allow her professional to answer the question asked by the board.
The professional was unable to recommend a viable solution to grow grass in Jackson.
At the center of the heated debate was the question, “What is native grass?” One that had no answer as environmentalists spoke circles around the planning board.
In the end, “native” was a term that was entirely in the eye of the beholder.
The planning board maintained that “native” grass was grass that was suited to survival in a particular ecosystem and those who drafted the ordinance sought to ensure that any grass plantings required by law would be able to take root and survive.
One environmentalist claimed native was simply what grows naturally in an ecosystem.
While another environmentalist claimed “native” was a strict definition of species indigenous to a particular ecosystem without any human interference.
Donato, after hours of testimony on grass, rested her case on “parking lot”, being the definition of “native”.
Solar panels remained a tertiary subject at the hearing behind grass seed and iron deposits below the surface.
Environmentalists maintained that disturbing eco-sensitive iron deposits would cause environmental havoc and prevent certain types of grass from growing, but also conceded that there would be no harm to surrounding well water because the iron already exists in the ground.
“No additional toxicity would be introduced to the water supply,” said an environmentalist speaking on behalf of Donato.
The hearing will resume at the January 11th meeting.
Photo: Environmentalist legal counsel Michele R. Donato argues the definition of grass seed at the Jackson Township Planning Board hearing on Monday, November 30th.